‘Humanisation’ of pets creates opportunities in pet food

9 Feb 2022

Clean label, natural, sustainable, luxury and plant-based: The ‘humanisation’ of pets means consumers want premium pet food, and a number of food manufacturers are entering the growing pet food sector to meet their demands.

Some of the world’s biggest CPG and food manufacturers are also the world’s biggest pet food manufacturers. Mars Petcare is the world’s biggest pet food maker, followed by Nestlé Purina Pet Food, Colgate Palmolive, and JM Smucker Company, according to Mordor Intelligence.

‘Humanisation’ of pets creates opportunities in pet food
Plant-based protein, insect protein and nutrient-rich microagae are making their way into premium pet food.

The fact that some multinational food manufacturers continue to enter the pet food category through acquisitions indicates the blurring lines between the two industries.

In 2018, General Mills announced plans to acquire Blue Buffalo Pet Products for around US$8 billion while, in the same year, the J. M. Smucker Company – whose portfolio includes peanut butter, coffee and snacks – inked a deal to acquire Ainsworth Pet Nutrition in a deal worth about $1.7 billion. Smaller food companies are also entering the fray. US family-owned meat company Omaha Steaks launched a line of dog treats that are free from additives and preservatives, and are made from natural ingredients.

Humanization and premiumisation

The economic outlook for pet food is positive, according to Mordor Intelligence, and historically, the sector has been able to weather economic downturns. Mordor Intelligence predicts the global pet food market will grow by 4.6% over the next five years. Some of this added value can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, which created new demand as people living under national lockdowns and curfews bought pets for companionship.

However, pets are also increasingly treated as members of the family, rather than simply domestic animals, which increases people’s willingness to spend more on pet food. This is adding value to the pet food industry.
“Globally, pet humanization has received a lot of attention in mainstream media over the recent past. The shift from pet ownership to pet parenting has been a very crucial and defining trend in the pet food market, more so in developed countries,” says Mordor Intelligence analysts.

Many food industry trends, such as demand for clean label, natural, plant-based and healthy indulgent, can be seen in the pet food industry in developed countries. Nestlé Purina-owned brand, The Pioneer Woman, makes ‘healthy indulgent’ dog treats available in flavours that would not look out of place on the packaging of human snacks; its range includes bacon, apple, & maple waffles and ranch-raised lamb jerky cuts.

Insect protein & plant-based

US start-up Bright Planet Pet makes plant-based pet food that tastes and smells like meat. Its chicken flavour treats are made with chickpea flour, brown rice and potato protein, natural flavourings, and spices such as turmeric. According to the company, its products create up to 90% fewer carbon emissions and use 68% less water compared to meat-based treats. UK vegan pet food start-up Omni, which raised £1.1 million ($1.5m) In January 2022, says its plant-based products are nutritionally complete and meets the guidelines set by FEDIAF, the trade association that represents the interests of the EU pet food industry. It recently received the backing ProVeg, a non-profit plant-based organisation.

“Plant-based alternatives are transforming the food industry,” said Albrecht Wolfmeyer, head of the ProVeg Incubator. “Now the pet food industry is ripe for change. OMNI is part of a new generation of impact-driven pet food companies focusing on sustainability and health.”

Insects are also attracting attention as a sustainable source of nutrition for domestic animals. In 2021, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approved whole dried black soldier fly larvae and black soldier fly larvae meal for adult dogs, allowing US pet food manufacturers to use this source of insect protein in dog food and treats. Canadian cricket protein manufacturer Aspire Food Group says that about 80% of its cricket protein powder supplies the pet food industry.

In Europe, Swedish start-up Tebrito has developed an 88% protein-rich powder from mealworms (Tenebrio Molitor) that is it says is highly digestible and on a par with beef in terms of essential amino acid content. While Tebrito ultimately hopes its insect protein will be used for food, it acknowledges that the animal feed, aqua feed and pet food industries currently have more potential as they do not have to overcome the ‘yuck’ factor.
By 2025, between 40 to 50% of the insect meal produced in Europe will go towards satisfying demand from pet food manufacturers, according to figures from the IPIFF, a trade organisation that promotes insects for human and animal consumption.

Microalgae for nutrition

Microalgae has also been identified as a sustainable source of the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, in pet food.
Writing in Creature Companions, Dr A C Beynen, professor emeritus of veterinary nutrition at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said supplements, treats and complete foods featuring DHA-rich algae promise improvements in skin, coat and joint health, immunity, trainability of puppies and brain function of aged dogs.
However, there is no evidence that extra intake of DHA alone, as the sole omega-3 fatty acid, meets these claims, Beynen added.

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